LEGO whiz and friends quickly cobble together design and win award at LEGO challenge

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Noah Hernandez, 7, has always enjoyed playing with Legos. The St. Clement of Rome second-grader spends much of his time coming up with his own designs, rather than following the directions that come with each Lego kit.


His parents, both physical therapists, wanted to encourage this creativity, while also giving Noah the opportunity to spend time with other children who share his interest. So Jessica and Randy Hernandez, began researching if a Lego-based club or organization existed.


They quickly learned about the Junior FIRST Lego League. The Junior FIRST Lego League is made up of teams of 6- to 9-year-olds. According to the Louisiana league’s website, “team members get to: design and build challenge solutions using Lego elements; apply real-world math and science concepts; research challenges facing today’s scientists; learn team building and presentation skills; and develop a ‘Show Me’ poster.”


Although St. Clement had a Lego team for older students, they did not have a junior team. It was up to the Hernandezes to form one. Within three weeks, Noah and five of his friends, Kolbe Willis, Cullen Wigley, Tucker Threeton, Owen Gaspard, and Aleksander Cognevich, had decided to start the school’s Junior FIRST Lego League team, the Roman Robots.


Along with Randy Hernandez, Mike Cognevich, Joseph Willis and Maria Gaspard volunteered to help as the team’s adult leaders. “The adults were simply there to help them problem-solve,” Hernandez said. Hernandez also said they had to act quickly in order to participate in the annual challenge at the league’s expo that was scheduled for December. “It was already October when we found out about it.”


The theme for the 2013 Challenge was natural disasters. Each junior team had to select a major natural disaster, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, and then build a Lego model that showed either before, during, or after the disaster occurred. The models were required to have one moving part and a simple machine was to be incorporated into the model, as well. The children also had to research the disaster for a “Show Me” poster and presentation. This part of the challenge gave students the chance to demonstrate what they had learned about the natural disaster, why the team had selected it, and how they researched the subject. In addition, team members had to answer questions from volunteer reviewers during the expo, and write biographies about each team member.


For their first challenge, the St. Clement students chose earthquakes and tsunamis. In October the team began meeting for an hour after school every Thursday in Eileen Hite’s classroom. Hite, a science teacher at St. Clement, is the adult leader for the school’s FIRST Lego League team for 9- to 14-year olds.


St. Clement of Rome’s Junior FIRST Lego League Team, the Roman Robots, won the Global Awareness Award at the league’s expo, held at Holy Cross in New Orleans recently. The Lego model shook to show the effects of an earthquake and tsunami. The “Show Me” poster also show the team’s research on their natural disaster, as well as the biographies of each team member.

The boys then used approximately 500 Lego blocks and a motor with an axle to build a model “that, when we put the base-plate on, it started to shake” Noah said, explaining how the model illustrated what happens during an earthquake. “Earthquakes form underground, when two plates get stuck. Then they slide past each other, which creates a burst of energy that goes up to the surface and makes a big crack. All the buildings start to shake and fall down,” Noah said, proudly.


The model was built over four weeks, before the team brought it to the Louisiana Junior FIRST Lego League Expo on Dec. 7 at Holy Cross in New Orleans. The Roman Robots won the Global Awareness Award at the competition. Out of 20 teams participating, the Robots were the only team from the south shore.


If you would like more information on the Louisiana Junior FIRST Lego League or other FIRST programs coordinated by Building Louisiana Science and Technology, Inc. (BLaST, Inc.), visit


Elaine Binder is a Bucktown resident who writes stories of community interest. Please contact her at or 504.296.1080



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